Monday, September 04, 2006

Burnout Revenge Post-Mortem

[Now Experiencing] [Computer Gaming]

I actually bought Burnout Revenge for the PS2 last year when it first came out, and played halfway through it. But then I got my hands on a copy of Disgaea, and I got a little sidetracked. Luckily, I've returned to it over the last week and finished as many of its ridiculously large number of goals as I'm ever likely to.

I'll keep it short: Burnout Revenge is the greatest racing game ever created.

That praise isn't as all-encompassing as it sounds. By and large, I don't like racing games. They go next to platformers on my "genres to avoid" list. I, in fact, dislike driving so much that I don't have a driving licence, and have no plans to ever obtain one. Normally, the closest I get to a driving game are the Mario Kart and Grand Theft Auto franchises.

What makes the Burnout series special is that it brings back something visceral that I really haven't seen done well in a game since the age of Road Rash. In Burnout, smashing your opponents to a fiery death is just as important as driving well.

Oh, sure, there's been Carmageddon, and suchlike, but those games weren't fun. Not like Burnout Revenge is.

I mentioned a while ago on this blog that what's depressingly rare in gaming these days is finding a game that looks fun to play, before you've actually played it. Burnout Revenge is one of those games. From the ground up, the visuals are an integral part of the Burnout experience. Each and every moment of gameplay looks like you've just been dumped into one of the more exciting moments of a good action action movie. Performing a "takedown" on another car delivers a brief fantastic slow-motion shot of the devastation you've caused. Being taken out by another car switches the camera to a sepia-tinged view of your attacker speeding evilly away. And somehow none of these camera shenanigans interfere with your control of the game in the slightest.

Burnout Revenge perfectly captures the feeling of high-speed destructive mayhem. Crashes and explosions are frequent, and rendered in loving detail. The slightest bump against another car at high speeds feels significantly meaty. Impacting with same-way traffic will send even medium-sized vans cartwheeling down the track ahead of you, smashing into other vehicles and leaving a trail of twisted metal in their wake.

The basic gameplay of Burnout Revenge is fantastically satsifying, barely needing any framing to be an excellent game, but that's not the only part of the package that's done well. The action itself takes place across a total of 169 different events, made up of a mix of standard races, race GPs (which string several races together), eliminators (wherein every 30 seconds the last-place car is eliminated from the race), road rage events (where the object is to take down a set number of rival cars within a time limit), traffic attack events (where you're challenged to cause a target amount of property damage by hitting same-way traffic), and crash events (where the objective is to cause the most extreme traffic pile-up possible).

This long string of events is broken up into a fantastic number of subgoals. Firstly, completing an event will result in between one and five stars, depending on how well you did. Stars you've gained add together, and when you gain enough stars you'll "level up" by going up a "revenge rank", and thus unlocking the next level of events. Also, some events need to be unlocked by completing other events. Completing some events will also unlock new cars (there are 77 cars to be collected in all, although many of them are functionally identical to other cars and you're never likely to use them). Also, the game asks you to perform eight challenges in each of the eight locations, with particularly good unlockable cars as rewards, and also keeps a list of "signature takedowns", awarded when you perform a takedown in a set area (such as smashing a car into a bowling alley to get the "Strike!" takedown).

The reward progression is fantastic, and will keep you playing through the very long list of events for a good length of time. No single task ever feels overwhelmingly difficult, and you're always left with the feeling that completing that next event is within the grasp of your skill level.

The soundtrack comes with the obligatory selection of "EA Trax", mostly indie artists with a few name bands like Pennywise and BT thrown in. There are over 40 different full songs in the game, most of which are actually pretty good, but by the time you're driving the 169th event you'll still be getting pretty tired of them all.

Really, the only sour note of the whole game are the "burning lap" events, which challenge you to complete a course within a certain time limit. There are no rival cars on these courses, and of course to make the time limit you can't really afford to crash. In short, these are courses on which you are expected to NOT do any of the things that make Burnout Revenge fun. They're the most frustrating part of the game, particularly the ones that force you to use some of the more squirrely high-speed cars, and the game probably would have been better for their absence. Luckily, you can complete almost all the game's goals without so much as touching a Burning Lap event, so if you're like me you can pretty much leave them till last.

Burnout Revenge is a must-have for anyone who fancies a bit of high-speed mayhem for the PS2. Developer Criterion is to be much applauded for the fantastic design of every aspect of this game, and you should check it out for yourself.

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